Category Archives: TV

The Cordless Generation

Entertainment apps on the Amazon Fire Tablet via Amazon.com

Entertainment apps on the Amazon Fire Tablet via Amazon.com

If you’re the parent of a kid between the ages of, oh, 5 and 13, you’ve probably experienced this scene:

SETTING: A living or family room. A kid is curled up with a tablet in their lap watching videos. An HDTV sits unused just feet away.

You: “You know there’s a TV right there with a much bigger screen.”

The kid Looks up.

Kid: “Yeah, I know.”

The kid looks back down at the tablet. You wander off muttering incoherently to yourself.

I know my wife and I have each had this scene play out with our geekling multiple times each. And, in our case, there’s a high definition projector near him while he’s glued to a 7 inch tablet watching Netflix or YouTube.

According to The Next Web this is not usual anymore, at least in the UK. They cite a survey by Childwise that recently found that Netflix is the most popular “channel” for kids in the UK. Related to that, the BBC declared last week that time “online” has overtaking time watching traditional TV for kids. Now, I know that’s the UK, but I cannot imagine it is much different in the U.S. or other developed/affluent nations.

When I was a kid, it was a big deal to jump from four channels (ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS) to cable TV which added access to some independent channels from Chicago. After school, I still turned on the TV but I had a handful, about three, new choices of reruns/cartoons to watch daily. Then, we got HBO…one channel of HBO, but that was huge. (R rated movies! Richard Pryor and George Carlin uncut!) But, even then, the Big Three Networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS, still ruled viewership and they were later joined by Fox. But, change did come, slowly over the last three decades TV viewership has continually fragmented as hundreds of channels now dot the cable/satellite TV landscape. Over the last few years, the “Big Four” networks have been usurped by channels like HBO, FX, USA, AMC, TNT, SyFy, A&E, and TBS which all field top notch scripted programming. And the “upstarts” are getting recognition in the form of Golden Globe and Emmy awards, formerly the domain of the “Big Four” networks. Cable and Satellite have clearly disrupted the old broadcast model. But, articles like the one above by The Next Web clearly show that the disruptors are now the disrupted with younger viewers moving to streaming options and away from traditional TV.

What’s stunning to me is how quickly this has happened. But, if you look at what has happened in cell phones, social media, and on demand entertainment over the last decade, you can see where the groundwork was laid for the “Cordless Generation.” In the early part of the last decade, cell phones with texting began to pull the attention of kids away from TV, and everything else. My older kids, now in their 20s, like any other kid their age could text like demons on those little numpads. Then, cameras became ubiquitous in cell phones. Camera phones made it easy to take videos constantly and YouTube and social media allowed kids to share all of those videos with their friends easily. By the beginning of this decade, Facebook/social media and texting were both pulling kids away from traditional TV and getting them used to their preferred content being portable. Cable and Satellite TV countered lagging viewership with DVRs to record hundreds of hours of programs and “on demand” downloading of some content. Viewers could watch on their schedule, not the network’s. They could also skip commercials. This transitioned viewer habits from “watch when it’s on” to “watch when I want to.” (Only live events like sports, news and such can still pull in some people, but even ESPN is now shedding viewers badly.)

Not In Front of the TV + Portable + On Demand + No/Few Commercials = streaming content. Netflix made its initial success from cheap DVD rental by mail. But, their long term plan was to move to internet delivery of content via streaming of the same movies and TV shows they rented on DVD. Looking back on it, it seems obvious where all the trends were pointing. YouTube was already streaming user created content, Netflix just upped it to content from Hollywood, and other, studios. Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. and others have followed. Watch what you want when you want and WHERE you want. But the online services just had recycled content from broadcast TV, cable TV, and movie studios. They had to share revenue with them. TV/movies were still the originators. And the cable channels and movie studios began to see they were losing eyeballs to the Cordless Generation so they wanted better deals in exchange for licensing content to Netflix et al. So, Netflix took the next, logical step: they created their own content. And, shows like House of Cards were a hit. Netflix had created the Cord Cutter. Or, they’d finished the creation, at least. Amazon quickly followed and Hulu and others are getting into the act. It’s even gone full circle: you can get HBO sans cable/satellite bill over the internet via HBO Go and the newly announced Star Trek series for 2017 is slated to appear only on a streaming service from CBS.

Which brings us back to my Geekling. Ten plus years ago, his older siblings were getting their texting on, but they still sat in front of Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. Later, they graduated to traditional TV shows. Their baby brother started the same way watching Sesame Street, Thomas the Tank Engine and Dora the Explorer, etc., on TV, albeit via DVR. Ten years later, their baby brother is 11 and he watches some traditional TV shows but he’d rather watch reruns of older shows on Netflix. He’s a classic binge watcher, consuming entire runs of everything from Shaun the Sheep to Digimon to Young Justice to The Suite Life of Zack and Cody in a matter of days. If he does watch “newly created” scripted shows, it’s most likely the shows created by Netflix (Puss In Boots, Dragonriders of Berk: Race to the Edge) or Amazon (Annedroids). These “kid shows” are at least as good as anything on Nick or Disney. And, his older siblings? Well, the ones that have their own apartments do not have cable or satellite TV, but they watch a lot of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

None of this addresses the elephant in the room: YouTube. YouTube predates all of the other streaming services. It started off just as a way for users to publish whatever video content they created from goofy cat videos to dance recitals to home made music videos. Of course, TV and movie clips, and entire movies, are also uploaded which causes studio lawyers fits. But, the cat videos have largely moved to Facebook and such. YouTube has found other niches, two of which keep my Geekling’s attention when he’s not watching scripted content from Netflix, etc.: “How To” videos and game streaming.

YouTube has become the place to search when you do not know how to do something. Everything from cooking to electronics to coding to game walkthroughs and much more are on YouTube. And, if you look up how to connect or use some appliance or consumer electronic, it’s likely that the maker put its instructional videos on YouTube. YouTube has really begun to fulfill the long promised future of online, on demand learning. For someone like my Geekling, if he gets stuck in a video game or has trouble building a Lego kit, he goes to YouTube and the answer to his dilemma will be revealed.

Game streams are his real passion on YouTube, though. Older adults might wonder at video/computer games becoming spectator sports, but the kids get it. Ever heard of “Pewdie Pie?” What does he do? He posts videos of himself playing games. He has 41 million followers on YouTube, his videos have been viewed over 11 billion times, and he made Forbes’ list of Most Influential 30 Under 30 along with Adele, Ed Sheeran and the cast of the new Star Wars movie. He earned over $12 million last year alone from his video efforts and, in fact, the top 10 YouTubers earned a collective $54 million! Not all of them are game streamers, but many are. Geeklings like mine will sit for hours watching gamers, usually older than him up to their 20s, playing games like Minecraft. He learns about Minecraft mods, game strategies, and new games. It’s scary as a parent, of course: this stuff isn’t rated like TV for content and you have to try to keep an ear/eye on what the kids watch. (I’m sure I miss stuff, but I’m guessing he hears worse on the school playground or from his older siblings.) And, if he doesn’t want to watch recorded game streams, live game streaming via sites like Twitch is also popular. YouTube is even branching into a live game streaming section called YouTube Gaming to compete with Twitch. Game broadcasting is huge and even I would rather watch game streams or an episode of Wil Wheaton on Geek & Sundry’s Tabletop instead of most of the dreck on TV. (I may rant on my own disatisfaction with TV in a future post.) People who play sports like to watch others on TV who play sports. This is really no different. And, unlike watching a millionaire professional athlete play a sport,  you can watch someone stream a video game and turn around and play the same game or mod on your own console or PC and maybe even at the same ability level. Call it geeky, but… did I mention Pewdie Pie has 41 million followers on YouTube???

The Cordless Generation is real. There is a ton of stuff to watch online in every niche, interest, sport, hobby, or genre. “TV” is not the end-all be-all of our free time as it was even just 10 or so years ago. And everyone from the TV makers to Hollywood is going to feel it.

Dad, hubby, geek, nerd, gimp, cynic and optimist.

via IO9: On Agents Of SHIELD, Revenge Is A Dish That Only Tastes Good To Psychos

IO9 has a nice spoiler filled review of last night’s Agents of SHIELD episode. We had to DVR last week’s episode and didn’t get to watch it until last night. So we got to watch both episodes as a sort of 2-part movie.

The Ward brothers have a chat (via IO9.com)

The Ward brothers have a chat (via IO9.com)

I agree with IO9 that the episodes this season are far superior to season 1. The story arcs are better. Ward’s creep factor is off the charts. Kyle MacLachlan is a delightful combination of psycho and funny. (Why doesn’t this guy get more work?) And, Director Coulson is hitting his stride again. (“You want pain? Come and get some.”) Awesome.

Anyway, if you’re all caught up on Agents of SHIELD, read the IO9 recap and make sure to read the very lengthy analysis by commenter “Cool Breeze.” It’s a nice pick apart of details and possible tie-ins to Avengers 2. (Anyone else notice Ward’s name drop of “Strucker?”) And, I agree with Cool Breeze: I’m not convinced that Simmons isn’t brainwashed. I think she may turn out to be “happy to comply.”

And, I don’t trust Bobbi either.

Dad, hubby, geek, nerd, gimp, cynic and optimist.

via the Atlantic: How Agents of SHIELD Got Good By Forgetting About Superheroes

The Atlantic, always a good site to find thought-provoking stories and news, has an op-ed that should make fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) happy. Joe Reid writes in How Agents of SHIELD Got Good By Forgetting About Superheroes that, while the first season of AoS was a bit slow and the characters were flat, that the collapse of SHIELD portrayed in Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and the effects from that on AoS gave the show the kick in the Agents it needed.

The core Agents of SHIELD cast at series premiere via comicvine.com

The core Agents of SHIELD cast at series premiere via comicvine.com

I won’t reiterate his entire reasoning here, but I mostly agree. My wife, Geekling and I have watched AoS from the beginning and liked it. I admit to a bit of “fanboyism” in overlooking some of the flatness of the characters in my joy at seeing the return of Agent Coulson. (I, like many, was never happy that he got “Whedonned” in Avengers.) And, I was excited to see the tie-ins to the MCU’s movies of which there were some in the first half of the season. But, I do admit I wondered if it was just going to be a bunch of good guys chasing bad guys, grabbing artifacts, stopping super villains and what not. In other words, it felt a bit like a souped up cop show. (Almost Human, anyone?) There was an early plot line, “Centipede,” which also linked to the plot of Ironman 3, and that gave AoS a sort of “plot thread” running through the show. But, while it was full of action, effects, and Coulson’s deadpan humor, I agree the show hadn’t found its legs. I worried ABC would give up on it as weak ratings were reported.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)

Then, The Winter Soldier hit theaters. We sat in the theater and watched Hydra finally come into the light and SHIELD get kneecapped. And, I thought, “What the hell does this mean for AoS?” By all accounts, the actors on the show were just as shocked at a super secret screening of Cap 2. In the short video below, Clark Gregg talks about how they were all shocked. The next day they were  handed new secret scripts revealing the big turn the show was taking and Agent Ward’s betrayal:

Suddenly, AoS had new juice and it began to find its legs. The guest actors portraying both villains and allies add wonderful spice to the show. Bill Paxton was so good as a treacherous Hydra sleeper agent, the “Clairvoyant,” that I could not wait for him to get whacked. (His demise was hilarious.) And Patton Oswalt as, apparently at least three, Agents Koenig is great.

So, yes, I agree that AoS has finally found its spark, its mojo. New characters like Mack, Hunter and Bobbi Morse (“Mockingbird”) as well as villainous guest characters like Skye’s father, played creepily, and also dorkily, by Kyle MacLachlan, have added new energy to the show. Although, I fear to get too attached to some of the characters. The ABC/Disney/Marvel PR people pumped Lucy Lawless (Xena, Spartacus) up as a new addition playing another SHIELD agent… and killed her off in her first episode. This is a Joss Whedon show so we should know not get attached to everyone. (I’m still pissed about Wash in the movie, Serenity.) The changes in the original cast members and reveals of some of their pasts make the characters less flat. The actors have something to chew on now. The stories are better and so is the dialog.

I do have worries, though, moving forward:

  • With so many actors, can the writers feed them all and make sure they have meaningful roles in the show’s stories?
  • How do you redeem Ward? He killed dozens of SHIELD agents!
  • Will middle of the road ratings do for a costly show? Those effects and the large cast cannot be cheap.

But, I am optimistic. AoS is on an upward trajectory. And, I almost anticipate the show’s winter hiatus this season because then we get the beginnings of SHIELD in Agent Carter!

Dad, hubby, geek, nerd, gimp, cynic and optimist.

SyFy Gets Back To Sci Fi, But Can My Geekling Watch Too?

Entertainment Weekly has a nice article on how the SyFy Channel is planning to get back into the actual science fiction business. This news isn’t quite as shocking as, say, MTV going back to showing actual music videos, but it is welcome news nonetheless. Ever since shows like SyFy’s rebooted Battlestar Galactica ended, SyFy got away from big, and expensive, space epics. They’ve done “reality” shows like Ghost Hunters and lighter, and less expensive, scripted shows like Warehouse 13 and Eureka. They’ve had some success with those shows but conceded the territory of epic sci fi and edgy fantasy to other networks such as AMC with The Walking Dead. As the EW article states, this year they brought in new programming chief Bill McGoldrick who comes from networks like USA. SyFy will be adding 5 new shows this season including space epics Ascension and Expanse. Click over to the EW article for a complete rundown on SyFy’s new shows and a Q&A with McGoldrick on the changes coming.

I am glad to see SyFy getting back to actual sci fi, but I’m still concerned. I’m concerned because I wonder if I’ll be able to watch these new epics with my 10 year old geekling. It seems from where I sit that for a dramas to be successful on TV anymore they not only have to be “edgy” but also very violent. The rebooted BSG was not a kid friendly show and I sure as heck would not let my geekling watch Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, or True Blood. You see, I actually liked now cancelled SyFy shows like Eureka because they were, sort of, sci fi and didn’t have a whole lot going on that you had to tell your kid to close his eyes during. Dr. Who may be the only in production sci fi show I can watch with him and even it likes to veer into almost horror once in a while. (The episodes this season haven’t seemed as good this season anyway, although I do like Peter Capaldi as The Doctor.) Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is the only other must see show we watch that is sort of sci fi and it had a pretty high body count at times.

I know I’m “of a certain age.” I cut my TV sci fi teeth on reruns of Space:1999 and Star Trek in the latter half of the 1970s. And, like everyone else, I was blown away by Star Wars when it hit theaters during my sixth grade year. About the same time I discovered The Six Million Dollar Man and, after TV execs saw the dollar signs of Star Wars, ABC gave me the original BSG. Going into the 1980s, for better or worse, we got Buck Rogers, which was fun but set back drama by about 20 years. Finally, in 1987, thanks to the success of Star Trek theatrical movies, Star Trek: the Next Generation premiered in 1987 giving us good space epic sci fi, even if it took a couple of seasons, and better costumes, to find the show’s groove. The shows I grew up on were a mixed bag, mostly good to great, a few not so much (sorry, Captain Rogers and Colonel Deering).

They all had one thing in common, though: you could watch them as a kid, even if you didn’t get all the “subtext.” There was violence, sure. But, the violence wasn’t gratuitous nor was it gory. And, yes, there was some sexual innuendo. (You know he had a good time when Captain Kirk is sitting on his bed putting his boots on.) And, frankly, I believe we should be more worried about violence in our entertainment than naked boobies anyway. My point is, my parents did not have to worry about any bad influences on me from watching my sci fi shows, except for possibly my lack of outside playing while I watched them. The good ones were good adventures that fired my imagination and, occasionally, got me thinking about social issues of importance. Both aforementioned Star Trek franchises, especially the Original Series, would slip in stories addressing racism, war, and human rights. The shows of my youth and early adulthood were fun, mind opening, and, for the most, safe for kids 10 and up. By contrast, the rebooted BSG started with a 2 hour TV movie that opened with a sex scene between Baltar and the Cylon and within 20 minutes had the same Cylon murdering a baby out of curiosity at its fragility. I never watched another episode. Give me Boxie and his robot daggit, Muffin any day.

Times change, I know. The shows of the 1950s were certainly hokey and outdated to the audiences of the 1970s and 1980s. The same is true of many of the sci fi shows I watched growing up when watched by modern audiences. Tastes change. But, I have to think it is possible to write good sci fi TV with great stories, occasional socially relevant themes, dazzling effects, humor, and action without buckets of blood and acres of corpses littered everywhere.

Welcome back to sci fi, SyFy. I’ll give your new shows a try for sure. But, I’ll screen them without my Geekling first to make sure he can watch them too. And, if I decide they’re not appropriate for him, I probably won’t watch them either. I don’t want to shoo him away when I watch TV. I’ll just keep showing him classic sci fi streamed online or from my video library. We’ve got a lot of TNG to get through yet.

Dad, hubby, geek, nerd, gimp, cynic and optimist.